Bearcats Mid-Season Report

With the beginning of a new year, college football is coming to an end. On the other hand, college basketball is in full swing and no team is in the middle of it more than our own Cincinnati Bearcats. Coming into the season, the Bearcats were ranked 24th in the preseason AP poll and had tons of confidence for the upcoming year. The season started with four easy “warm up” games against Tennessee-Martin, Mississippi Valley State, North Carolina A&T and Campbell University. The Bearcats then spent the Thanksgiving holiday in Las Vegas as they were competing in the Global Sports Invitational, where they would face their first challenges of the year. The first game of the Invitational was against the Iowa State Cyclones. What should have been an easy game for the Bearcats started as quite the challenge. It was a back and forth fight in the first half with each team answering the others’ possession. It wasn’t until the second half when the Bearcats finally pulled away. After being tied at 35 at the half, the Bearcats outscored the Cyclones in the second half 43-35, to win the game 78-70 and clinch a birth in the championship game against the Oregon Ducks. Playing two games in two days is never an easy task, but that’s what the Bearcats had to do. Ranked 22nd at the time of the game, the Cats played much better against the Ducks than they did against Iowa State. The Cats had the lead from the get-go and didn’t give it up. The Cats finished the game on a 25-12 run to win the Global Sports Invitational. Fresh of a championship win in Las Vegas, The Alabama Crimson Tide were waiting for the Cats at Fifth Third Arena. Whether it was fatigue or just a great game by the Tide, but it took a fade away jumper by team leader Cashmere Wright at the buzzer to win. After the close call against ‘Bama, the Cats had three more easy games against Arkansas Little-Rock, Maryland-Eastern Shore and Marshall. Those three easy wins leading into the Crosstown Classic was a great confidence booster for the Bearcats. December 10th, 2011. The infamous brawl between Xavier and Cincinnati had the local and national media questioning whether the rivalry should continue. However, for the sake of the city, the game would continue and the US Bank Arena downtown. The Bearcats were coming in on a ten game win streak and were ranked 11th in the nation. The Musketeers were coming in at 7-2 with losses to Pacific and Vanderbilt. Redshirt junior and fan favorite, Sean Kilpatrick carried the Cats with 25 points with taking 28 of Cincinnati’s 68 shots. It was close early but the Bearcats proved too much for the Musketeers. The Bearcats went on to win the Crosstown Classic, 60-45. “This is the most overrated game in history,” said Bearcats coach Mick Cronin. “Whoever wins usually goes on a bad streak because they think they have accomplished something, we are just focused on the Big East.” Cronin must be a psychic because that’s what has happened to the Bearcats. In the five games following the Crosstown Classic, the Cats have gone 2-3 and 1-2 in Big East play. Following the win against Xavier, the Bearcats rode their hot streak with a ten point win against Wright State. Even though a win is a win, the Bearcats flaws were becoming noticeable. JaQuon Parker, however, came to the rescue of the Cats, scoring 16 of his 21 points in the second half. Down six at the half, the Cats started the second half on a 23-6 run to put the game away. The Bearcats then crossed paths with the New Mexico Lobos. The Bearcats came into the game ranked 8th in the nation—its highest ranking in nine years. The Lobos had a bad loss against South Dakota State and it ended their time in the top 25. New Mexico was definitely a team to watch out for and the Bearcats could never get it started, regardless of their four point lead at the half. The Bearcats only shot 31 percent from the field and that’s not going to win you any game. The Bearcats gained a little confidence with a bounce back win in their Big East opener. The Pittsburgh Panthers were ranked 24th in the nation when the Cats came to town. The Bearcats struggles continued in the first half and for much of the game. “The first 30 minutes we try to wear you out as much as you can,” Cashmere Wright said. “The last 10 minutes, we want you to be as tired as possible. So we just keep pushing, keep grinding … we know most teams don’t play like we play.” That’s exactly t what the cats did. With only shooting 18 percent from beyond the arc, wearing down Pitt would be the only way to win. After a big win on the road, the Cats came home to two home games against St.John’s and the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. But what seemed like two winnable games turned to back to back losses at Fifth Third. A lack of defense and turnovers in both game caused this losing streak. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that the Bearcats backbone is the three ball. Shooting only 30 percent from beyond the arc against St.John’s and 42 percent against Notre Dame, our three point shooting is improving. “Our season has been good leading up to the Shootout. Our lack of a true big man has showed,” said junior Adam Gardner. “We are starting to miss Yancy Gates now more than ever. Nyarsuk or Mobdj to step up. The “Big Three” of Parker, Kilpatrick and Cash have kept us afloat but if we are going to compete for the Big East, we need others to contribute.” It is the defense that is struggling. The Bearcats play better in chaos and the better their defense is, the better our offense is. The Cats hold the third-ranked efficiency defense in the country; they hold opponents to 29.0 percent from 3 and only 38.5 percent from inside the arc, which is the third-lowest percentage for opponents in the country. They haven’t played that way in recent games and if they want to stay relevant in the national conversation, they need to step it up. I’m expecting team leaders such as Cashmere Wright, Sean Kilpatrick, JaQuon Parker and Justin Jackson to step it up in the second half of the season and lead the Cats deep into March.